Falling on My Face

Final Crit

Lately, I’ve had to learn a huge smorgasbord of skills in areas I have zero experience. Over my past decade teaching at the college level, I’ve become very accustomed to being the one in charge and having or finding a solution for every possible problem. I’ve found the process of acquiring these new skills to be a refreshing change.  Instead of helping my students get back on their own feet, I’m now the one bumbling around, falling on my face left and right.

When I was a student at RISD, I was so appreciative of my professors who gave me the opportunities to mess up for the sake of trying something new and bold.  As a professional,  I’ve found it much more difficult to take big risks because when you stumble, it’s in front of the whole world.  In school, I was insulated from all of my creative endeavors being on public display. There was an extraordinary freedom I had as a student that I didn’t appreciate enough at the time. I think that’s why I tell my students upfront on the first day of class that the reason they’re in school is to make mistakes. For many students, that’s a huge relief.  Many of my students have been trained their entire lives up until then to be “correct,” which of course has no meaning in the visual arts.

Final Crit

I constantly talk to my students about the importance of failure in the creative process.  While I firmly believe in this point of view, it’s one thing to talk about it, and it’s another thing to actually walk the plank the way I ask my students to.  I’ll admit that I had forgotten how incredibly disorienting it can be to do something you have no clue about, and to be in a constant state of confusion.  I haven’t felt this awkward since I was 12 years old. I have accepted that basically everything I do in this project has to be done wrong a minimum of three times before I make any progress. Somehow, doing a task badly a few times helps me see a good solution much more clearly.

I go ice skating with one of my friends frequently, and her six year old daughter just learned to ice skate last year. The fear of falling paralyzes a lot of kids when they first get on the ice, so many kids just stand there because they’re so afraid of falling.  My friend’s daughter let herself fall every time she was even close to being even remotely off balance, and the result was that she quickly got over her fear of falling.  In fact, once she figured this out, she seemed almost enjoy the fact that she was falling down every two minutes.  (snow pants helped too) She quickly got over her fear of the ice and was skating in no time.

I like to think that I’ve borrowed my friend’s daughter’s pre-emptive mindset.   I tell myself that I’m required to fail first, so I don’t even bother trying to get things “right” on the first few attempts. I can welcome failure and wade through my mistakes much more quickly. It’s an odd balance of feeling totally perplexed and yet being incredibly exhilarated at the same time. Who knew that being really bad at something could be so fun?


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Learning Visual Arts in High School on Your Own

Charcoal Drawings of Bones

Visual art has always been the most compelling force throughout my entire life that I could always turn to, no matter how tough times were.  My desire to draw as a child was insatiable, and I relished every weekly art class in elementary school.

In high school, I found myself with meager options to study visual art.  I was a decent academic student, but I was not a star athlete, the two areas that were glorified by the other students. Socially, I was awkward, shy, isolated, and always felt out of place.  Visual art was the thing I knew I was good at, the only subject I deeply enjoyed.  For all the other students, art class was a joke, the class you took when you wanted an easy A. The art teachers I had were incompetent, and consequently, the art classes were remedial and pathetic. Basically, I had to teach myself.

Charcoal Drawings of Bones

I felt alone, lost, and embarrassed by my interest in visual art. Other students were studying classical music with world renowned musicians at places like the New England Conservatory Preparatory school, and I heard constantly about students who were being sent to prestigious, national soccer tournaments.  For me, there was no equivalent in the visual arts. And this was at an excellent public school in an affluent neighborhood, I can’t imagine circumstances are any better at most other schools.

From speaking to my students, it upsets me to find out that the situation is exactly the same as it was twenty years ago for me. The vast majority of high school students who want to learn visual art are on their own.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Unexpected Influences

I always encourage my students to supplement their studio practice by looking at visual artists who work with similar subject matter, or who they have stylistic correlations with. If you want to paint portraits, most people would agree that you should study great portraits throughout history, as well as contemporary portraits.  As a student, and later as a professional, that’s exactly what I did when I wasn’t in the studio creating work.

There are many visual artists whose artwork I’ve studied in tremendous depth as a direct influence on my own artwork.   Giacometti, Kollwitz, Caravaggio, Messerschmidt, William Kentridge, and Michael Mazur have been artists I’ve revisited countless times.

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Kathe Kollwitz, Woman with Dead Child

I have specific experiences and moments that I associate with each of these artists. My junior year at RISD, I went on the European Honors Program, and was hell bent on seeing every Caravaggio painting in Europe. (I came pretty close)  I saw my first Kollwitz prints  at the Study Room for Drawings and Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC during graduate school.  I had never so physically close to a print of hers before. I’ve haven’t seen a Messerschmidt sculpture in person, but my interest in his work got me to buy the first expensive art book I’ve purchased in years. ( I love art books, but when prices start at $60, you realize that your money is better spent elsewhere most of the time)

My students are often surprised to hear that I find artwork that is dissimilar to mine just as fascinating, and maybe even more so.  The subject matter and creative process of these artists is so vastly different from mine, that I can’t wrap my head around how they arrived at creating their artwork.  I’ve been intrigued by Sopheap Pich, El Anatsui, Chiharu Shiota, Sarah Sze, to name just a few.

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Sopheap Pich

However, recently I’ve been traveling far beyond these contrasting artists, deliberately pushing myself away from visual artists altogether. Many people assume that because I’m a visual artist, all I want to look at and read about is visual artists. Lately though, it seems like I’m not interested in reading about or looking at visual artists at all. You would think my lack of interest right now would be a negative thing, or a sign of being burned out.  Actually, I feel more creatively stimulated than I’ve felt in a while, all because I started reading books again.

Oddly enough, my desire to read books got started because I stopped watching TV, and needed a way to unwind before going to bed. I think I quit TV because I’ve now watched every video remotely related to Louis CK, or because the last 4 movies I saw made me wish I could get those 2 hours of my life back. (Interstellar, Exodus, Edge of Tomorrow, and Theory of Everything. Okay, I should have known with Exodus what I was getting into, but I had hope with the other three)

I always enjoyed reading books before college, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I can count the number of books I’ve read since college on one hand. Part of this is because I’m an extremely picky reader, and if I’m not utterly captivated by the book within 10 pages, I can’t go on. I have to read books that are so incredibly engrossing that I can’t put the book down. With this stringent requirement, it can be hard for me to find the motivation to read because I am so easily disappointed.

BeingMortal  71CwWiCJhuL-319x479

In the last few months, I’ve gravitated towards books about food, comedy, and medicine. (you can see my book lists on my Goodreads account.)  I’ve been fascinated by seeing how other fields function, and their various methods of thinking. These fields might seem totally unrelated to visual art, but I’ve found many parallels.  I’ve been ruminating about how strategies used in other fields could be applied in my own artwork and teaching.

I’ve found myself mesmerized reading about the intricacies and issues in medicine discussed in Atul Gawande’s books. “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” was so riveting that I actually became sad when my Kindle app told me that I had finished 80% of the book. I just finished “The Checklist Manifesto“, which has less content about medicine than Gawande’s other books, but was just as gripping. In this book, I found concrete, practical strategies that I might eventually implement into my classroom. For example, next week I’m introducing linear perspective to my sophomore drawing class at RISD.   If you understand linear perspective, it seems so simple, but if you don’t, it can be daunting to learn the rules and terminology of linear perspective, and then figure out how to practically apply those rules as you draw. After reading Gawande’s book, I thought about creating a checklist based on linear perspective for the students to use as they work on their drawings in class.

I’m not nearly finished with looking at and researching visual artists by any means, and certainly I will be back for more at some point. For now though, it’s lovely to stumble upon resources for my artwork and teaching in places where I don’t usually expect it.


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RISD Freshman Drawing, Spring 2015

Final Crit

This week has been packed with final crits in my Freshman Drawing classes at RISD. I’m always amazed that as much as things have change, some things remain fundamentally the same. Every May, I see the same emotions that I experienced as a freshman in my students. My students are deeply immersed in their experience right now, so it’s impossible for them to get any perspective on their freshman year because it’s too close to them. I, on the other hand, have had 17 years to ruminate on my freshman year at RISD, and it got me thinking about my answer to a question a student asked me during a Q&A on the last day of class:  “What do you want us to take away from our freshman year?”

My answer to that question is that even though I demand that my students invest tremendous time and effort into creating and critiquing their artwork freshman year, ultimately, it is not the artwork that is most significant.  In fact, I stress to my students that within a year or two, the final projects they worked on this week won’t matter to them. Some might see that as a negative outlook, but I see it as being positive: if that final project isn’t important to you later on, it means that you’ve moved on to greater things.

Final Crit

I describe to my students where the artwork from my freshman year went: some of it I sold at open studios events or at a yard sale, some of it went into the recycle bin, some of it to the garbage, there is one pile of newsprint drawings packed into a portfolio sitting in the back of a closet in my house, and there are two plaster sculptures that are sitting on my fireplace mantle.

So if the artwork ultimately doesn’t matter, what does?  It’s the thinking strategies, the work ethic, and the mindset that you can carry with you for the rest of your life. My greatest hope for my students is that after finishing freshman year, they feel empowered and completely capable of dealing with anything that gets thrown at them. After my freshman year, I felt like I had gone to hell and back.  As difficult as freshman year could be at times, nothing intimidated me anymore. I knew that no matter how challenging the circumstance was, I would find a way to handle it. Today, I know that I will never miss a deadline, and if there is any doubt in my mind that I might not meet a deadline, I simply say no. Freshman year at RISD stretched me to extremes that I didn’t even know existed, and I developed an acute understanding of just how far I could push myself. These are the qualities that I use every day.

You can view student portfolios with artwork from my Thursday and Friday classes on my Flickr page.

Final Crit

Final Crit

Student excerpts

Final Crit

At the end of every semester, I ask my freshman drawing students at RISD to fill out a final self-critique form.  The form asks questions about their progress this semester, and is an opportunity for students to take the time to reflect upon their experience in the class. Below are some excerpts from the self-critique forms.

“In order to get anything out of my work, I have to put everything into it.”
“A successful idea might be the result of numerous unsuccessful ideas.”
“I learned that something goes wrong every time no matter how hard you plan it.”
“I’ve realized how little I know about just about everything.”
“The process of failing never stops.”
“I realized its okay to not have everything work out the way it was meant to.”
“Good things can come from failures.”
“I learned that becoming a better artist does not only depend on the technical skills.”
“Projects never quite turn out as you plan.”
“It is critical to embrace who I am and not let other people steer me away from that.”
“I really learned that if I know what a work will look like in the end, then I’m not pushing myself enough.”
“If I work really hard, I will get results I’m proud of.”
“I’ve learned the importance of stepping outside your work.”

Lecture for RISD Teaching & Learning in Art & Design

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I gave a lecture on April 9, 2014 for RISD’s graduate program in Teaching + Learning in Art + Design.  The video was shot and edited by Paul Falcone.

Tomorrow! Artist Lecture at the RISD Museum

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Tomorrow night I am giving a lecture for the graduate students in the RISD Teaching + Learning in Art + Design program.  The lecture is at 6:30pm, and will take place in the Metcalf auditorium at the RISD Museum, and will be based on my book, “Learn, Create, & Teach: A Guide to Building a Creative Life.” Hope to see you there!